To Room 19 , Final draft

In the short story “To Room Nineteen” by Doris Lessing, Susan Rawlings is a woman living what seems like the perfect life with the perfect marriage. However, it soon becomes clear that Susan isn’t as happy with her life as one might think upon first glance. Slowly but surely, Susan begins to drift away from her home life in attempts to find freedom through solitude. This reaction can be analyzed by taking a closer look at how Susan relates to the places in her life such as her beautiful home with her family and the small hotel room to which she escapes. Reading the fifth chapter of Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place alongside “To Room Nineteen” helps us to understand the counterintuitive notions of space and freedom Lessing describes in her story. In this way, Tuan’s insight helps us recognize Susan’s fear of responsibility and desire for freedom as they relate to the places in her life.

From the outside, it seems as though Susan lives the ideal life with a big house and a beautiful garden for her children and loving husband. However, as the story progresses, we see that Susan becomes more and more “reluctant to enter her big beautiful home” (Lessing 530). This same attractive, picture-perfect house begins to push Susan away, for in it are the many responsibilities that come with adult-life and motherhood. The more these responsibilities weighed down on Susan, the more it felt “as if something was waiting for her there she did not wish to confront” (530). This seems strange because, typically, “spaciousness is closely associated with [freedom]” as Tuan explains in Space and Place (52). By this logic, one would think that Susan would feel plenty free in her big home with the spacious, lush garden to wander through. However, although “freedom implies space,” space does not always imply freedom (52). What Susan truly needed was space from her family, and freedom from her responsibilities.

This becomes evident when Susan takes her vacation to the mountains in Wales. Physically, she had all the space in the world, from huge mountains to tall skies and deep valleys. But with her family calling her multiple times a day, Susan felt like “the telephone wire [was] holding her to her duty like a leash” (Lessing 538). Tuan explains this phenomenon by stating that “solitude is broken not so much by the number of organisms in nature as by the sense of busy-ness—including busy-ness of the mind” (61). This is exactly what Susan felt, for although she was alone physically, her family weighed down on her mind constantly, ruining her sense of solitude. Though they tried to be helpful and supportive, Susan’s family couldn’t understand this critical concept. Had they been able to go a few days without calling her or without Mrs. Parkes nagging her with household business, perhaps Susan’s vacation would have appeased her craving for solitude. Alas, the opportunity was spoiled and Susan returned to her home feeling more exhausted than when she had left.

For all of these reasons, Susan felt it necessary to seek out Room 19 in Fred’s Hotel. This was Susan’s escape, not because it was a vast, open land like the mountains were, but because no one knew she was there. It didn’t even matter that “the room was hideous” because “she was free” (Lessing 541). The room she was shown was small and dingy, with only one small window and cheap looking sheets on the sole bed that was there. All Susan needed was to be “alone and with no one knowing where [she was]” (Lessing 537). In this way Susan’s relationship with the dreary motel room allows us to understand the counterintuitive notion of freedom as relating to space. This was the only place she could get away from herself and be free. Here, “she was no longer Susan Rawlings… she had no past, no future” and it had nothing to do at all with physical space (542). Instead, it was the cramped little motel room that gave Susan her freedom, giving us insight as to why she searched out Room 19.

We also saw something interesting in the scene where Susan meets Mrs. Townsend. The presence of just one other person ruined Susan’s entire attempt at solitude. Here, we can compare Susan to the pianist Tuan discusses on page fifty-nine of his book. He explains that for a shy pianist practicing alone in a room, the presence of just one person shatters his world and forces him to stop his work immediately. Like the pianist, Susan’s solitude was obviously tarnished by the presence of others. Tuan touches on this idea as well when he says that “the company of human beings—even [one] other person—has the effect of curtailing space” (59). He explains that when we are alone, we can allow our thoughts to “wander freely over space,” but that “in the presence of others, [our thoughts] are pulled back by an awareness of other personalities who project their own world onto the same area” (59).

Another crucial aspect of Susan’s solitude wasn’t just that no one was around, but that no one knew where she was. Tuan explains why Susan’s solitude is tarnished even with someone’s mere knowledge of her location, saying that “crowding is an awareness that one is observed” (60). Once Susan felt that her husband was keeping a close eye on her, the feeling she got from the room “was not the same, [for] her husband had searched her out” (544). Her husband’s suspicions were completely understandable, but at the same time, had he respected Susan’s need to be away, perhaps her hunger for solitude would have remained sated by the little motel room she had found.

It also becomes clear throughout the story that Susan desperately needed to escape her household responsibilities in addition to her family. Between hiring a fulltime au pair girl and running off to London for the hotel, it is clear that Susan had no interest in being with her family at home. Even when she was home for supper, all she could think about was how desperate she was to be alone again. The association she made between her responsibilities and her house drove her away to be in Room 19 where she was completely alone and hidden from the outside world. There, she could let go of her life completely for the duration of the day and go back to pretending to love her home life at night.

By understanding Susan’s relationships to her spaces, we can understand her need to escape the life she built for herself. Her detachment to her beautiful home signifies the way she let go of the perfect life she created with her family while her need for Room 19 highlights how much she wished to be completely alone. Once her husband found her out, the solitude that Susan had searched for so desperately was tarnished. After this, Susan felt cornered into escaping life altogether. No amount of space could satisfy her, because now it seemed that her family would find her even in the smallest and most hidden of places. The only way Susan could leave her life behind completely was by taking it herself, and she finds this permanent escape in Room 19, the only place that allowed her to be completely free.

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm Comments (0)

Cathedral

In the short story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, a husband is narrating his experience meeting his wife’s close friend for the first time. This friend, Robert, is a blind man and the wife’s true confidante in life. At first, the husband is very discontent with the prospect of having a blind man in his home because he had never really spoken to or known anyone personally who was blind. This seems very insensitive at first, but to some degree I can understand why he might be nervous to interact with Robert. However, I think that the husband felt threatened by his wife’s and Robert’s closeness, and was anxious more because of that jealousy and resentment than anything else. The entire evening, the husband takes careful note of just about everything the blind man does, from the way he eats dinner to the way he lights his cigarettes. Eventually, Robert & the husband are left by themselves watching television while the wife sleeps on the couch. It occurs to the husband that, while they were watching (or listening to as in Robert’s case) a program about cathedrals, Robert may not have a clue as to what a cathedral looks like. He tries to explain to Robert what it looks like, but feels that his explanation is inadequate. It seems significant to the husband that cathedrals mean nothing to him; they have no spiritual or religious value at all. Robert suggests that they draw the cathedral together, and this is an extremely moving part of the story. Finally, the husband closes his eyes in order to assess his work. This creates a beautiful irony seeing as the husband held so much animosity towards Robert for his blindness for the majority of the story.

Ironically, I don’t necessarily feel that the cathedral tells the most about the husband’s character. It’s obviously very significant, but I think the first place we’re made aware of is the husband’s home. He feels very threatened by Robert’s and his wife’s relationship, and the fact the Robert was being invited into his home, his territory, is very significant for the husband. What’s also clear is the constant separation between the husband & Robert physically—they never sit next to each other. Any time the husband, wife, and Robert go into the living room to talk, the wife & Robert sit next to each other on the couch and the husband sits apart on the sofa chair. This points clearly to the emotional distance between Robert & the husband (as well as the distance between the husband and wife, for that matter). Even when Robert and the husband are on the same couch sharing a joint, the wife sits herself down in between them, separating them instantly. It’s only at the very end when Robert & the husband begin to draw together are they close, and this experience is what breaks the barrier between them. It’s clear that the differences the husband felt between he and Robert are completely broken when he appreciates the image he drew by temporarily becoming like Robert and closing his eyes.

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm Comments (0)

To Room 19, Rough Draft

In the short story “To Room Nineteen” by Doris Lessing, Susan Rawlings is a woman living what seems like the perfect life with the perfect marriage. However, it soon becomes clear that Susan isn’t as happy with her life as one might think upon first glance. Slowly but surely, Susan begins to drift away from her home life in attempts to find freedom through solitude. This reaction can be analyzed by taking a closer look at how Susan relates to the places in her life such as her beautiful home with her family and the small hotel room she escapes to. Yi-Fu Tuan also helps us to understand these counterintuitive notions of space and freedom in the fifth chapter of his book Space and Place.

From the outside, it seems as though Susan lives the ideal life in a big house with a beautiful garden for all of her children and loving husband. However, as the story progresses, we see that Susan becomes more and more “reluctant to enter her big beautiful home” (Lessing 530). This same attractive and picture-perfect house begins to push Susan away, for in it were the many responsibilities that come with adult-life and motherhood. The more these responsibilities weighed down on Susan, the more it felt “as if something was waiting for her there she did not wish to confront” (530). Typically, “spaciousness is closely associated with [freedom]” explains Tuan in Space and Place (52). For this reason one would think that Susan should feel plenty free in her big home with a huge, lush garden to wander through. However, although “freedom implies space,” space does not always imply freedom (52). What Susan truly needed was space from her family, and freedom from her responsibilities.

This becomes evident when Susan takes her vacation to the mountains in Wales. Physically, she had all the space in the world, from huge mountains to tall skies and deep valleys. But with her family calling her multiple times a day, Susan felt like “the telephone wire [was] holding her to her duty like a leash” (Lessing 538). Tuan explains this phenomenon by stating that “solitude is broken not so much by the number of organisms in nature as by the sense of busy-ness—including busy-ness of the mind” (61). This is exactly what Susan felt, for although she was alone physically, her family weighed down on her mind constantly, ruining her sense of solitude.

For all of these reasons, Susan felt it necessary to seek out Room 19 in Fred’s Hotel. This was Susan’s escape, not because it was a vast, open land like the mountains were, but because no one knew she was there. Because of this, it didn’t matter that “the room was hideous” because “she was free” (Lessing 541). The room she was shown was small and dingy, with only one small window and cheap looking sheets on the only bed that was there. None of this mattered because Susan’s escape was not only of her family, but of anyone else as we saw the first time she attempted escape in the lonely Miss Townsend’s hotel. Here we can compare Susan to the pianist Tuan discusses on page fifty-nine of his book. He explains that for a shy pianist practicing alone in a room, the presence of just one person shatters his world and forces him to stop his work immediately. Susan needed to be “alone and with no one knowing where I am” (Lessing 537). Through this relationship, the one between Susan and the dreary motel room, we can understand the counterintuitive notion of freedom as relating to space. This was the only place she could get away from herself and be free. Here, “she was no longer Susan Rawlings… she had no past, no future” and this is exactly the feeling she was seeking when she searched out Room 19 (542).

Clearly, Susan’s solitude was tarnished by the presence of others. Tuan touches on this idea as well when he says that “the company of human beings—even [one] other person—has the effect of curtailing space” (59). He explains that when we are alone, we can allow our thoughts to “wander freely over space,” but that “in the presence of others, [our thoughts] are pulled back by an awareness of other personalities who project their own world onto the same area” (59). He also explains why Susan’s solitude is tarnished even with someone’s mere knowledge of her location, because “crowding is an awareness that one is observed” (60). Once Susan felt that her husband was keeping a close eye on her, the feeling she got from the room “was not the same, [for] her husband had searched her out” (544).

Throughout the story we get more and more evidence that Susan needed to escape her responsibilities at home. Between hiring a fulltime au pair girl and running off to London for the hotel, it is clear Susan had no interest in being with her family at home. Even when she was home for supper, all she could think about was how desperate she was to be alone again. The association she made between her responsibilities and her house drove her away to be in Room 19 where she was completely alone and hidden from the outside world. There, she could let go of her life completely for the duration of the day and go back to pretending to love her home life at night.

By understanding Susan’s relationships to her spaces, we can understand her fears and desire. Her detachment to her beautiful home signifies the way she let go of the perfect life she created with her family while her need for Room 19 highlights how much she wished to be completely alone. Once her husband found her out, that solitude that Susan had searched for so desperately was tarnished. After this, Susan felt cornered into escaping life altogether. No amount of space could satisfy her, because now it seemed that her family would find her even in the smallest and most hidden of places. The only way Susan could leave her life behind completely was by taking it herself, and she finds this permanent escape in Room 19, the only place that allowed her to be completely free.

Published in: on at 11:23 am Comments (0)

To Room 19

To Room 19 by Doris Lessing is a story about a marriage that should have been perfect, but went horribly awry when the protagonist, Susan Rawlings, finds herself feeling empty and unfulfilled. Despite her four beautiful children, perfect husband, and huge white house with a garden, Susan can’t seem to find herself once her youngest children are old enough to go to school. At the root of the emptiness that Susan feels is the desire to be completely alone, unbound by the responsibilities of motherhood and being the ever-cheerful wife she has been until now. She tries to find a space to call her own within her house or out in the garden, but somehow her family manages to tarnish her solitude and she goes searching for a space elsewhere. Eventually, Susan becomes so desperate to escape the life everyone had thought would be perfect that she heads into town to rent out a dingy hotel room every day, feeling completely indifferent to the suspicions that may arise because of it. She arranges for the maid and nanny to take care of her household while she’s gone so that she can escape completely. In the end, Susan escapes her family entirely by becoming so crazed that she takes her own life in Room 19 of the hotel she had come to know as her own, leaving her once-perfect life behind.

This story is particularly interesting when analyzing place and space because Susan’s ideas of freedom seem to contradict the notions of freedom we’ve seen so far in other stories. In The House on Mango Street, freedom went hand-in-hand with an image of a house very similar to the house Susan actually owned. Spacious, unfenced, many rooms, and a beautiful garden with a river close by, this house would seem to represent freedom and happiness for most. Instead, when Susan finally finds a space to unload her worries, it is small, sleazy, cramped, and overall aesthetically unpleasing. And yet here is where she finds comfort.

I think that this idea relates very closely to what Tuan describes in his fifth chapter of Space and Place. He describes how others affect our space in very major ways, how once others share a space with us, all of their thoughts immediately come into play of our own. Once others enter our space, we can no longer think as freely as we do when we’re alone. This is exactly how Susan must have felt in her own home. There was always someone there, always someone that needed her attention, always someone to have in mind. The type of escape Susan needed was of solitude, not of space, which explains why she didn’t even feel free while on vacation to the mountains. All the space in the world wouldn’t have helped Susan so long as her family knew how to contact her.

In the end, Susan’s husband, Matthew, sends someone to the hotel where she had found her peace, and this completely destroys her sense of disappearing while she was there. Once that happened, the only way for Susan to leave her life behind was in the most literal of ways. Hence, in the same room where Susan seemed to have found herself, she loses herself completely, and takes her own life. Freedom for Susan meant freedom from others, not freedom from small space, and once others had discovered her, there was no point in searching for her freedom in the living world anymore.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm Comments (0)

Updike’s A & P and Tuan’s commentary

In his short story A & P, John Updike incorporates various details that allow for close analysis. The first thing that sticks out is the diction Updike uses for his character’s speech. The improper grammar of the opening line, “In walks these three girls…” sticks out like a sore thumb. Immediately, I make a judgment about the character, Sammy, and where he’s from. What’s also interesting is that Sammy is so absorbed in his place that when he needs to refer to someone’s orientation, it is completely in reference to the place itself (ie. referring to the girls as being “over by the bread” as opposed to saying “slightly to my left” or something along those lines). I think that this is important because it shows how much a part of him his workplace (the supermarket) is. We can also see a relationship between Sammy and the supermarket when he leaves the building after quitting. Tuan mentions in his fourth chapter that we allot different values for different spaces, and I think that the moment that Sammy exits the supermarket is extremely telling of the value he placed on it. What’s more is that when he stops to realize the consequences of his actions, the line “my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter,” allows us to get a sense of how important this workplace was for him up until that point and that he’s going to be feeling its absence in a very major way.

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 1:40 am Comments (0)

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